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Breaking Down Brian Hoyer’s Game Film

I wish I had been nicer to Brian Hoyer in 2017.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Back in week five of the 2017 season, our Colts hosted the San Francisco 49ers who came to town with their new head coach Kyle Shanahan and had yet to make a move for Jimmy Garoppolo. Instead, they had signed none other than Brian Hoyer to lead their offense. It made sense, given his familiarity with the system. I wrote about Hoyer at length in the Opponent Scouting Report that week and I’m essentially going to re-post it here.

One thing to keep in mind: I was writing about Brian Hoyer in his role as a starting quarterback. What follows isn’t a glowing review of Brian Hoyer, and I’m not going to change course now just because he’s a Colt. I wrote what I wrote and I stand behind it. With that said, I do think Brian Hoyer is an excellent addition as a backup if we need someone to step in temporarily. Also, I’m only going to be covering Hoyer, on the field, I didn’t spend any time talking about Hoyer and his abilities in meeting rooms helping to game plan, as others have reported in the past. Those things, combined with what he can do as a backup, leave me happy with his signing.

Everything that follows is from this article.


...Hoyer fits what Shanahan wants to do, in that he knows his offense having worked together in Cleveland. As a first time head coach without a franchise quarterback anywhere near the roster, having someone with this familiarity can be invaluable.

That doesn’t change the fact that the answer to the question I posed above is absolutely, no, Brian Hoyer can’t read a defense.

Not in real time anyway. In the film room I’m sure he’s a superstar. When watching film, I’m pretty good at identifying defensive concepts. Put me on a field with live action and I probably wouldn’t start for most middle school football programs in Indiana. Brian Hoyer would, but again, once bullets start flying he makes at MOST two reads and the ball is out.

Fortunately for him he’s working with a head coach that designs plays that will allow him to make mostly single reads. Robert Griffin III won a rookie of the year award without ever really understanding an NFL defense. He owes that trophy to Kyle Shanahan (his Heisman Trophy he owes to his otherworldly athleticism for the QB position). So let’s take a look:

  • Staring Down His Receiver:

At the snap his head turned directly to his right and he watched the out route the entire time. Obviously it was his read. That was his first (and likely only real option on the play) and he decided to test Trumaine Johnson, and as I pointed out in my week 1 scouting report of the Rams, that’s not a good idea.

Hi-lo Mesh:


This play design created a high-low read. I’m honestly not sure what the order of his reads are on this play. Normally there’s a backside drag route, but here they give a different look. What follows is my best guess.

If the defense follows the in-breaking receiver and drops down on the TE, the outside receiver will sit in the zone and be wide open for a big gainer. Instead, the defense does the correct thing (because their DC is Wade Phillips) and covers the deeper routes leaving the TE open underneath.

This is the type of read you’re going to see from Hoyer. It’s simple, it’s quick, and it’s a read every NFL QB should be able to make and execute accordingly.

  • Works Like A Charm:

I don’t care who your quarterback is, I love this play and other variations of it...

...it’s a great concept and when executed well, like the two plays above, it works. Again this was a simple read. It is as safe as a pass gets on the goal line. If the QB’s No. 1 option isn’t open on this play, that ball is in the stands.

  • Yankee Concept

If you clicked my link to Matt Bowen’s story above, you’ll notice this is the Yankee Concept he noted as a favorite of Shanahan’s. (You’d also notice the Hi-Lo Mesh, but I’ll let it go). If you want another crack at clicking the link, here you go.

This is a throw Hoyer shouldn’t have made. I would like to think Malik Hooker gets another INT if he throws this ball up against our Colts. He forces the ball into double coverage and luckily for him, his WR works back and keeps it out of the hands of the defense.

  • Again, Single Read:

This down sees play action, three verticals and a late breaking route at the bottom of the screen. Hoyer gets the look that he wants and never looks away. To give credit where it’s due, he does place this ball well, but he should, his target had a 2-yard cushion and he’s an NFL quarterback.

  • Verticals Concept Backside Drag:

Here Hoyer looks left and from the sideline angle it was pretty obvious he had no intention of going that way with the ball. He was looking the defense off in hopes that the drag would be open.

On this play, it was.

  • When Keepin’ It Real Goes Wrong:

This play works if Luke Kuechly wasn’t the best inside linebacker in the game. If he bites on the play action, it’s probably a completion. Instead he does what Kuechly does, takes a read step, realizes none of the linemen are run blocking and drops into coverage.

Hoyer just assumed Kuechly would bite. He never saw him, because why would he be there? Did he not see that sweet play action? No, he saw it completely, and as a result of Hoyer’s in ability to actually read a defense, this one’s going the other way.

  • When The LB Doesn’t Cheat As Much As You Thought:

Again, Hoyer doesn’t see it. He counts on the LB taking himself out of the play, and he fires the ball straight to the defense.

If Ted Monachino isn’t on top of this part of Hoyer’s game, I would be shocked. If he can convince our safeties and linebackers to stay home when Hoyer looks hard one direction or another, it’s going to result in a big day for our defense.

  • When His First Option Is Gone:

I didn’t notice this very often, but this sack is on Hoyer. He has to get that ball out sooner, and since he can’t progress through his reads the way good NFL quarterbacks can, he’ll end up holding the ball too long like he does here.

I’ve spent this entire section ripping Brian Hoyer to shreds, but I want to make something clear: Hoyer is better at playing the sport of football than most people reading this will ever be at anything. That’s not an indictment of anyone’s value to the world, but rather the fact that playing NFL football is difficult and playing quarterback in the NFL is insanely difficult. What Brian Hoyer is doing week in and week out is incredible, just because he isn’t Manning or Brady or even the other Manning or Cutler, doesn’t mean he isn’t doing something great when looked at in the right context.

So take that for what it’s worth. I respect Hoyer. As a former UDFA, he’s carved out an amazing career, all things considered. It’s just at this level he’s going to have to lean on the talent around him to win consistently. Well really he’ll need to, to win at all.


So that’s how I felt about Brian Hoyer in 2017. From what I saw, he struggled to get through reads and he gets himself in trouble when he tries. If called upon by the Colts, I have very little doubt Reich will be able to use Hoyer’s strengths to maximize his effectiveness, even if that means calling a lot of RPO’s.

All in all, this was as good of a backup quarterback addition anyone could have hoped for in early September. Hopefully we won’t need to see him play football for our Colts.